Interview: A Young NZer’s Thirst to make a Difference
This online interview is with Curwen Rolinson, a member of NZ First’s Board of Directors; Leader, NZF Youth; and “one-man nationalist revolution”.
Kia ora, Curwen, and thank you for giving us your time and answers to the following questions…
Q: You’re a Director on NZ First’s Board of Directors. How long have you been a member of NZ First, and what attracted you to that Party – as opposed to, say, another Party?
I joined up a little after the 2008 election. I’d always had a soft spot for NZF’s nationalism and its anti-neoliberal economics, and these seemed increasingly relevant in the face of a looming threat from the economic vandals of the Maori, ACT and National parties.
I decided to go along to a local NZF meeting to see what the party was really like on the ground. The attendence may have been toward the gold-card end of the spectrum, but they got what I was on about. They didn’t need me to tell them that Rogernomics & Ruthanasia had ruined the country – they’d lived through it. They didn’t need me to remind them we once led the world as a humane social democracy with a brilliant budding nationhood – they built both.
Then Winston walked in.
I’d never heard him speak before. I’d seen him on tv, but that’s a very different experience to the live act. The overall impression we got was of a man who shared our concerns, our aspirations and our vision.
Afterward, Winston and I had a chat about tertiary policy and getting a youth wing going at university. What really sold me on NZF was that Winston seemed genuinely interested in how I thought we could improve NZF’s policy for students. The end result of that conversation was a set of policies for students written by students. In what other major political party would you get that kind of consultation with membership.
As for other parties, I ruled out ACT, National and the Maori Party on principle. I also ruled out United Future on lack of principle. Labour struck me as a tired third-way party that didn’t listen to its membership, while The Greens were being somewhat confused about whether they were left or right. Neither struck me as being an especially viable opposition. Jim Anderton’s Progressive Coalition also looked pretty decrepit at that point. His party wasn’t looking too healthy either.
Q: What has been your personal best experience with NZ First thus far?
Now that’s tough – close toss-up between two I think. First, crashing the Cup of Tea and hijacking John Banks’ photo op by staging an NZF Counter-Press Conference outside the Epsom Tea Party. Second, addressing last year’s NZF Convention. I love public speaking, and for me there’s nothing cooler than getting a few hundred people fired up to save the nation! [link to speech]
How did Banks react to your presence? He couldn’t have been too thrilled to see you there?
Haha; Banks beat a hasty retreat, and still seems shaken by his Near-Curwen-Experience. I was eating in Bellamy’s (the Parliamentary restaurant) last week with NZF’s Caucus and Banks happened to walk in. He caught sight of me, did a double-take, and spent the next five minutes giving me a very disconcerted stare from across the room.
The more amusing reaction at the Tea Party, however, was from Key’s Diplomatic Protection Squad minders who apparently thought I was the guy who’d planted the recording device.
Yes, I think I did hear something to that effect, on the Youtube-uploaded Tape. I think you may be off Banksies Christmas card list from now on…
Q: How do you feel about your Party’s success at the last election? And what do you attribute NZ First’s success to?
I’m exceptionally proud of the party, and exceptionally proud to have helped make a difference. I think it’s safe to say that our values and our mission have never been more needed than they are now. When my grandkids ask me what I did to build and save the nation they’re going to inherit, I can proudly start the tale with “well kids, I helped get NZF back into Parliament.”
I remember watching the swearing in ceremony and feeling hugely confident that the comrades I’ve come to know and respect over the last three years will do their utmost to protect and save our New Zealand.
The one thing I’m gutted about is that Helen Mulford was something like 0.1% away from becoming our 9th MP.
We’re back because we didn’t just try to recapture our old support base.
We undoubtedly had a solid core of support in electorates like B.O.P and Tauranga bolstered by strong local candidates, but we also reached out to new people and campaigned in new ways.
As an example of what I mean, two of my proudest achievements with NZF have been getting us on digital media (facebook, twitter and a new website) and crafting the best damn student policy of any serious political party.
Both of these helped us to connect with younger voters who might not otherwise have considered us. We put our message somewhere they could reach it, and we made sure they knew we’d represent their interests.
The end result of all this was polling showing something like 14.5% of first time voters were going our way.
In general, I’d put NZF’s success down to one in fifteen voters being seriously concerned about the path this country is going down on everything from asset sales to racial separatism. They’ve decided that they trust us above all others to get our ship of state back on its chartered course to prosperity. They have also agreed that (to paraphrase Helen Clark and/or Eminem) it just feels so empty without Winny.
I’ve heard an array of pundits put our resurgence down to the Tea Tape debacle. This interpretation marginalises and undermines the three years solid work we’ve all put into returning to Parliament. While the added media prominence it gave Winston was unquestionably a factor, to my mind it only served to enhance our pre-existing campaign work and solidify our role as the Anti-Key in the minds of the electorate.
Q: Had Labour won a slightly higher poll result, and had NZ First held the balance of power, what would your personal coalition preference have been? Or would you have preferred no coalition arrangement?
Opposition. It’s what we campaigned on, it’s what the electorate has asked of us, and it’s where our Caucus’s strengths lie at the moment.
More to the point, as NZF’s record with Labour from 2002 to 2005 proves, it’s entirely possible to secure progressive policy gains like the original Foreshore & Seabed legislation and the establishment of Kiwibank without a coalition or even confidence & supply agreement.
Q: If your option is for coalition, who would be first first preference as a coalition partner, and what bottom line(s) would you have, if any?
If I were pushed, and assuming we hadn’t tied ourselves to a previously announced position, it would have to be Labour. We enjoyed a reasonably amicable relationship with them from 2005-2008 in which they proved themselves capable of helping us govern for all New Zealanders, not a neoliberal few.
Despite Phil Goff’s past record (and I remember stumbling across some truly odious quotations of his from the Rogernomics Error), they agreed with us about improving wages, abolishing youth rates and buying back KiwiRail.
In terms of bottom lines, I’d be thinking about binding Labour to undoing some of the harm National’s wreaked over the last three years. Just off the top of my head… Reinstating the 2004 Foreshore & Seabed legislation, reducing GST back down to 12.5%, keeping the retirement age at 65, amending the Reserve Bank Act to take into account things other than inflation targetting, and a commitment to keep PHARMAC and block the sale of assets or farmland to foreigners would probably be a good place to start.
A Universal Student Allowance wouldn’t be too bad either.
However, what we bring to government is not just a series of bottom lines to horse-trade – Peter Dunne and Pita Sharples seem happy to merely do that; but rather a nationalist vibe that guides our decisionmaking. With this in mind, perhaps we should once again demand the position of Treasurer to ensure we can hold government economic policy to account.
I’m wondering if we can afford to keep retitrement at 65, or maybe push it out to 66 or 67, so we can fund social policies at the other end of the scale; early childhood education, school lunches, etc?
The way I’d approach this is by asking which you’d prefer to fund – pensions for hardworking Kiwis over 65, or unemployment benefits for same. Nobody in favour of raising the retirement age by two years has ever explained how exactly they intend to keep Kiwis in work for those additional two years. I’m quite in favour of incentivising people to put off retiring for a few years, but still believe that 65 is a fair and sustainable age for New Zealanders to retire at.
More to the point, this doctrine of “either-or” provision of social necessities doesn’t strike me as a sensible way to govern a nation. What your question effectively asks me is “do I prioritize looking after the elderly or the young”; and I cannot in good conscience give any answer other than “both, man, both!”
If we’re serious about having a decent society for all Kiwis regardless of age, then I suppose we’ll just have to once again get serious about having the fair taxation regimen to fund it, rather than looking to unfairly pull the rug out from beneath the feet of entire generations at either end of the spectrum.
Fair point about not pitting one sector of society against another. The Right seem to be quite adept at using that tactic. (Bomber Bradbury often refers to workers pitted against beneficiaries, solo-mums against families, etc, on ‘Tumeke‘.)
Q: Do you have a top three list of priorities that NZ First should focus on, this Parliamentary term?
1. Keeping the Bastards Honest. 2. Ensuring someone in the House actually stands up for the vocally expressed will of the people. 3. To echo Muldoon, Leaving New Zealand a better place than we found it.
Q: Have you read or heard of Gareth Morgan’s “Big Kahuna”, and his proposal for a Universal Basic Income/negative tax for the first $11,000?
I haven’t read the book, but I am aware of the idea of a universal basic income – if memory serves, it’s something Roger Douglas proposed back in the 80s. While he’s right that our present welfare system could use some substantial improvement (and arguably broadening of service), I find myself alarmed by the idea of a flat tax rate and a capital gains tax including the family home. Further, the movement away from targetted state assistance to a nonspecific, very generalised apprach arguably allows for far more wasted welfare than is currently the case.
Q: Taxes. Are the top earners/wealthy paying their fair share? Too much? About right?
No. It’s common knowledge that successful economies tend to have progressive taxation structures. We regressivised ours by giving tax cuts to the wealthy and then trying to pay for them by making everyone else shoulder the burden. Even the OECD thinks we went the wrong way on that one.
The end result of this is that many Kiwis are paying more than their fair share of tax to subsidise someone else’s perks.
However, I want to approach taxation fairness from a different perspective.
We pay taxes in part for what we and our families use. For most Kiwis that means paying to cover our kids’ education, ACC and medical services we might use, and more day-to-day things like infrastructure.
For our top earners, it’s a bit different. To amass that kind of income, you have to use the resources of the state a bit differently. Rather than worrying about your children getting an education for their sake, you want an educated workforce to staff your factories and offices. You don’t just want personal transport – you want infrastructure that can carry your products all over the country and further afield.
The question I’d be asking myself is whether the far right’s doctrine of tax cuts at any cost is really the most sensible, sustainable way to keep this going. We want to ensure our next generation of entrepeneurs and high earners enjoy the same if not better opportunities to do business as their predecessors enjoyed.
With this in mind, one of the core concerns for a taxation regimen of the wealthy should be ensuring they “pay it forward” to the next guy.
Q: Just briefly, what are your personal views on,
* private-run prisons?
There are some areas of human activity that I don’t believe a businessman should be able to turn a profit on. The incarceration of our fellow citizens would have to be one of them. This is not running a hotel or a half-way house for people who might have gone a bit off the rails. This is a matter concerning some of our most fundamental human rights. Just as we cannot allow the state to give up its monopoly on legitimated violence and killing to the private sector, we should also not allow the abjuration of our right to personal liberty by the market.
More to the point, a cursory examination of the track record for private prisons in America is alarming. They seem to cost exhorbitantly, tend to have strikingly high inmate suicide and abuse rates, allow for effective slave labour; and, most chillingly, can produce huge conflicts of interest in the parole process. If you’re being paid a premium per prisoner per year, you’re hardly going to want to release anyone early. Allowing justice to take its course at a parole hearing would harm your bottom line.
Our existing prisons are not perfect, however and I appreciate the arguments behind allowing non-state third parties a role in providing things like rehabilitation programmes.
* Charter schools?
I’ve yet to see compelling evidence that allowing McDonalds or the Destiny Church to open up a high-school will improve our kids’ educational outcomes.
Most of the points about distinctiveness are already adequately met by provision for ‘character’ schools, while the American experience with charter schools appears to have produced inferior outcomes at greater cost.
* minimum wage?
The expression “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” springs to mind – although a cursory examination of any corporate boardroom appears to prove that ridiculously overinflated pay packets have much the same effect.
There is something manifestly wrong with a poverty-line wage that doesn’t even cover the costs of keeping you in the job you’re doing (transport, accomodation, food and child care being the most obvious ones).
This was one of the things I initially loved about NZF. They understood the perils of being a low income earner in a low wage economy and had a $15 an hour minimum wage stance years before the other big parties got on board.
I think offhand we increased the minimum wage for youth more in a single year than National has done over the last three.
* waterfront dispute? Do you think the Labour Party has done enough on this issue?
The Maritime Union should ask for its donations back. Shearer’s stuck in 1951, and Tony Gibson’s attitude to his workers seems to be stuck in the 1800s.
It’s childish brinksmanship to threaten to sack one’s entire workforce as a bargaining tactic, and it’s dangerous dehumanisation to insist on the casualisation of said workforce to cut costs.
Whether or not there’s a privatisation agenda afoot, Tony Gibson is not the sort of man I’d like looking after one of Auckland’s greatest assets.
Indeed – sacking an entire sklled and highly experienced workforce doesn’t seem particularly bright. I think more than one person has suggested that Gibson is not the right person for the job.
What about ACC – to de-regulate or not to de-regulate, that is the question?
As with Privatization, it’s a case of “we’ve been down this road before”. It didn’t work in 1999, and I see absolutely no reason to assume ordinary Kiwis are going to get anything worthwile out of this. The insurance companies are no doubt licking their lips in eager anticipation for a cash-cow to offset Christchurch.
* Ok, fair ’nuff. What about mining? Especially of conservation lands?
Now let’s be honest. Mining can be great for an economy; it garners resources and is a major employer in some parts of the country.
However, I am absolutely not OK with mining the conservation estate which is in my eyes a precious resource all its own.
Here’s a simple political axiom – when guys like Rodney Hide think something’s a great idea … that is the time to start fighting vigorously to oppose it. This, after all, is a man who thought an open-cast strip mine would be more worth to the tourism sector than our present unspoilt wilderness.
* climate change?
Whether you believe in anthropogenic climate change or not (and I strongly do), reducing pollution and energy efficiency are good things.
It would, however, be refreshing to see some change in the political climate about things like the Emissions Trading Scheme. Letting derivatives traders like our Prime Minister make a quick buck off pollution is not part of the solution.
Good point about reducing pollution – that’s not something that the Right Wing can readily address. I mean, who could possibly be in favour of more air pollution?
And your thoughts on deep sea oil drilling? Especially after the ‘Rena’ stranding?
Heck, Yeah! Parata reckons “we have a sufficient legislative and regulatory regime in place to cover the permit that has currently been made available to Petrobras.” Terry Pratchett (whom I have rather more respect for) reckons “when nothing can possibly go wrong and every avenue has been covered, then is the time to buy a house on the next continent.”
We are not equipped to handle a substantial oil spill, as recent events have made unconscionably clear. We have also been steadily weakening the Crown Minerals Act to make ourselves a more enticing prospect to foreign oil companies. We are thus hardly legislatively equipped to handle oil drilling anyway.
You may be right, Curwen. I think sf writers may be more credible and insightful than many politicians. At least sf writers have more believable fiction. But I digress, let’s carry on…
Should Kiwisaver be compulsory? Should there be an opt-out option?
My gut instinct is that it should be compulsory. Sovereign wealth funds and forward planning for retirement are vital components in many successful economies – Norway, Singapore and Australia being the standout examples.
However, the problem is without substantial increases in wages and employer contribution, a good number of workers can’t afford to belong to the scheme.
The reason I say that is because when it was first introduced, I was the only guy in my workplace to sign on. Everyone else had mortgages, bills or children to support so couldn’t afford it.
So, if we’re serious about having a national saving regimen, we should probably sort out our wages first.
With regard to the opt-out clause, while I’m tempted to say I support one (remembering that Kiwis seem to have an innate fear of anything containing the word “compulsory” – as proven to Bill Rowling’s horror in 1975 and Winston’s in 1996), it has occured that many of the circumstances that might cause one to want to opt out are probably covered by the provision for a “contribution holiday”.
* Roads or rail? Which should have priority?
Rail, both for mass transit and for goods. I can’t get my head around the logic that people are better moved around our cities by creating multi-billion dollar traffic jams than by doing what every other first world city out there does and investing in rail. As petrol prices increase, it makes less and less sense to move large numbers of people or produce over long distance by road.
* School meals – should they be introduced in all schools? Just low-decile shools? Or not at all?
I can definitely see a place for them in low-decile schools; and, on a needs basis could well see them implemented across the board. Just because one is attending a decile 10 school does not mean one’s parents have a decile 10 income.
I’m frankly appalled by National’s Mike Sabin who claimed we shouldn’t be providing school lunches to our vulnerable kids because “then mothers and fathers would never have to do it”. That, to my mind, isn’t a child-friendly argument.
As far as I’m concerned, a malnourished child is probably not getting all they can out of either schooling or life. It will be through no fault of their own, and petty political point-scoring at the child’s expense is repugnant.
* Republic or not?
My big issue with New Zealand becoming a republic is that there’d be an immense temptation to shoehorn a new constitution into the process.
Thus, the best argument I’ve yet heard against becoming a republic, is the fact that Bill English & Pita Sharples are writing the constitution that would form the basis for it.
Whichever way we go, I hope it’s as the result of a binding referendum on the subject. This should be a matter for the people to decide – not a few hundred elites.
Q: What, in your opinion, has been the worst aspect or single thing, about John Key’s government?
The duplicity. A far better Prime Minister than Key (one Benjamin Disraeli) once noted that there were lies, damned lies and statistics.
Every number this government puts out – from unemployment rates to growth figures and from asset sales revenue to the 170,000 jobs we keep hearing about suggests that this is a government whose economic forecasting makes astrology look respectable.
Yeah, whatever happened to that 170,000 “new jobs” promised by Key?? It certainly seems to have been quietly dropped.
Q: What, in your opinion, has been the best aspect, or single thing, about John Key’s government?
I love political satire. It’s certainly a treat having an entire government writing for you.
Q: How do you feel about our current media? Do you have a favourite media that you feel stands above others? Which, in your view, is the worst?
Up until relatively recently I was frankly appalled by our mainstream domestic media on a seemingly daily basis.
It’s probably cliche for an NZFer to claim we don’t get a fair go, but I’ve watched it happen. On numerous occasions, I’ve seen journalists attempt to take on Winston in a manner that’s more bull-fight than interview so they can get an aggressive 5-second soundbite to play on the 6 pm news.
Thankfully, they’ve started to change their tune.
On a more positive note, the best media in the country is the blogosphere.
Gordon Campbell is, in my eyes, a national treasure. In few other places do you seem to get the hard questions asked and information presented in a manner that’s insulting to neither truth nor the intelligence of the reader.
Internationally, I love Al Jazeera and I detest the Economist.
Their respective coverage of the Honduras coup a few years back probably explains why. Al Jazeerah was first in, and reported in an unbiased way about a reasonably popular and progressive President who’d just been illegitimately overthrown by legislative elites.
The Economist, by contrast, seemed to be reporting about a completely different coup in which an overwhelmingly unpopular President was legally overthrown by a coalition of concerned citizens and lawmakers with the country’s best interests at heart.
Needless to say, the weight of history, and virtually every other source I came across did not side with The Economist’s manifestly counterfactual interpretation of events.
Q: If NZ First was in government as the major coalition Party, and you were an MP offered a ministerial role, what portfolio would you want? And why?
Hahaha. Once upon a time I, like almost every other young politico with a smattering of an economics education, wanted to be Finance Minister.
These days, I’d probably consider Minister of Education.
Oh? Why is that?
I’m really passionate about ensuring Kiwi kids get the best start in life. My parents are both teachers, I work in the education sector, and for years I’ve seen first hand the effects of flawed education policy.
At the moment, our education policy seems to be decided and implemented by people whose relationship with the educational professions seems to have moved from “arms length” to “armed standoff”.
The previous Minister of Education, for instance, was the only Minister in Cabinet lacking a degree and seemed to think her role in government was to play Thatcherite strikebreaker rather than improving the future prospects of our next generation. NZQA’s head office seems quite literally to be staffed with accountants rather than teachers, the end result of which being ongoing shambles like the NCEA and the soon-to-be-upon-us debacle that will be the implementation of National Standards.
I’m not sure about the National Party, but when something like 90% of the paid professionals who’ve spent several years training to teach our kids think something’s a bad idea … I’m inclined to listen.
Better be careful, Curwen – you could end up the most popular Education Minister since… since… Actually, have we ever had one?!
Which leads us on to,
Q: In your opinion, what is the single most critical problem affecting us as a society? How would you address that problem? And what time-frame would you give yourself?
The apparent lack of any compelling vision or plan by our government to leave New Zealand a better place than they found it.
We have three years to contribute our ideas and convince our government to do better.
After that, we must seek to change the government.
Q: Are your friends and family political? How do you relate to those friends and family who aren’t political?
Good question. The closest my family got to politics before me was my father’s vocation as a Reverend. Perhaps that’s where I get the faith & fury rhetoric about social justice from.
Deep down, I think everyone cares about politics. They might not be die-hard supporters of a particular cause or party, but we all want to leave a better New Zealand to our children than the one we inherited.
The trick is to bring that out in people – and I’d like to think that it’s pretty close to the surface in most of my friends.
Or, to put it another way, if they weren’t political before meeting me, they certainly are now. A case in point for this would be my long-suffering girlfriend Anya, who went from being apathetic about politics to the point of libertarianism to evangelising the Bengali community and shooting television commercials for us.
I think my partner would sympathise with you on that one, Curwen.
On a more personal level… What are some of your most favourite things,
Shapes, sour-worms and ginger ale.
In terms of actual meals, I’m highly partial to that traditional Kiwi repast of lamb & mint sauce; although I’ve recently developed an insatiable taste for home-made chicken curry.
Currwen, I must introduce you to ‘ The Curry Shop‘, in Upper Hutt. Their Chicken Saag is mana-from-heaven.
What about place to live? What is your favourite turf?
Mt Eden. I love my mountain and my valley.
* movie and/or tv programme?
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
I don’t really have favourite books per se. My favourite author’s probably Terry Pratchett, but what I’m reading currently is Bruce Jesson’s “To Build A Nation”.
* prominent historical person you admire the most? And why?
Hunter S Thompson. This was a man whose dual personal maxims of “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro” and “some may never live, but the crazy never die” have proven of great personal inspiration to me.
His uncompromising political principles, flair for the eccentric, and conviction of life-as-art-worth-doing are things which I hope to bring to my career.
Well, I see he’s still popular with the ladies…
Q: And your Last Word is on;
NZF’s role in Parliament this term strikes me as remeniscent of Gandalf confronting the neoliberal Balrog in The Fellowship of The Ring.
When National puts forward its bills to privatize our future, I look forward to hearing a clarion voice from the House yelling “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
Sounds damned good to me.
Thank you, Curwen, for sharing with us!
Folks wishing to contact Curwen can email him at; firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively Facebook him, on his page; Curwen Ares Rolinson; or blog on puttingnzfirst.blogspot.com, or on Twitter @ huntersrolinson.
This blog is not affiliated to NZ First in any way, shape, or form.
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For a better New Zealand…
~ Cleaner rivers
~ No deep-sea oil drilling
~ Less on Roads - more on Rail
~ Minimum wage @ $15 p/hr
~ Marriage equality
~ Strong, effective Unions
~ No secret free-trade deals
~ Breakfast/lunches in our schools
~ Introducing Civics into our school curriculum
~ Cut back on the liquor industry
~ A fairer, progressive tax system
~ Fully funded, free healthcare
~ Ditto for education, including Tertiary
~ Fund Pharmac for Pompe's Disease medication & other 'orphan' drugs
~ No state asset sales!
~ Rebuild public TV broadcasting!
~ Keeping farms in local ownership
~ Reduce poverty, like we reduced the toll for road-fatalities
~ Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
~ Being nice to each other
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- Budget 2013: Suffer the little children… to starve
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